The Fraser Institute

The Fraser Institute

June 20, 2013 06:32 ET

The Fraser Institute: Individual Property Rights Key to Social, Economic Well-Being for First Nations

OTTAWA, ONTARIO--(Marketwired - June 20, 2013) - For Canada's aboriginal peoples, economic empowerment and improved standards of living could best be achieved by granting fee-simple property rights to individuals on reserves, argues a new study from the Fraser Institute, an independent, non-partisan Canadian public policy think-tank.

"Property rights are critical to economic growth and social well-being. On June 21, National Aboriginal Day, let's have a frank discussion about providing First Nations people the same property rights as their fellow Canadians, for the betterment of aboriginal communities and the country as a whole," said Ravina Bains, associate director of the Fraser Institute Centre for Aboriginal Policy Studies.

"The right to own property is one of the cornerstones of any functioning economy. By restricting ownership of reserve lands, the Indian Act has made aboriginal people wards of the government," said Michael LeBourdais, chief of Whispering Pines First Nation.

The Wealth of First Nations: An Exploratory Study examines why some Canadian First Nations have succeeded in achieving noticeably higher levels of prosperity, as measured by the federal Department of Aboriginal Affairs' Community Well-being Index, compared to others. To measure how this success has been achieved, the authors developed and tested four indicators of respect for property rights and the rule of law: use of Certificates of Possession, adoption of property tax, entry into the First Nations Land Management Act, and avoidance of third-party management.

The study found First Nations that achieved high scores on all four indicators were more likely to rank at, or near, the top of the Community Well-being Index, even after controlling for factors including cultural background and remoteness of location.

"These findings suggest that one way for Canadian First Nations to improve living standards on reserves is to develop stable governing institutions and property rights that encourage participation in the wider economy," Bains said.

"If you make land ownership possible, then investment will follow, leading to an increase in both the quantity, and quality, of houses on reserves. People can use the value of their homes as collateral to engage in other economic activities, helping increase the economic prosperity of First Nation communities."

The report notes that for almost all of Canadian history, the location ticket or Certificate of Possession (under which property may only be sold to members of the same band) has been the strongest form of individual property rights available on Indian reserves.

However, the First Nations property ownership initiative, which is currently under discussion, would allow willing First Nations to opt out of the Indian Act and into a regime of fee-simple property ownership. The First Nations Tax Commission has been working with federal officials to make this initiative a reality; if and when legislation is passed, it is expected that about a dozen First Nations might want to opt in at the outset, with others perhaps following if the results are favourable.

"There is general agreement that much needs to be done to help First Nations attain a higher standard of living," Bains said.

"Based on our previous research and this new study, it seems likely that the First Nations opting for individual fee-simple ownership will have higher than average prosperity and economic growth, thus leading to further improvement in the standard of living for First Nation communities."

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The Fraser Institute is an independent Canadian public policy research and educational organization with offices in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, and Montreal and ties to a global network of 86 think-tanks. Its mission is to measure, study, and communicate the impact of competitive markets and government intervention on the welfare of individuals. To protect the Institute's independence, it does not accept grants from governments or contracts for research. Visit

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